Denver Broncos: Forgotten Players Who Will Contribute in 2014
The Denver Broncos have a plethora of well-known players, but they also have another handful of unheralded but talented players.
Just like Julius Thomas in 2013, the Broncos have players who could break out and reach their full potential. They might not perform like Thomas did—he caught 12 touchdowns in 14 games—but they could still contribute.
Who are these players?
Knowing that they had plenty of depth, the Broncos made a pick for the future in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft.
They selected Western Kentucky defensive end Quanterus Smith. The pass-rushing star accumulated 12.5 sacks in a shortened 2012 season, as he tore his ACL in November. He even piled up three against Alabama's highly touted line.
Smith will be ready to play in 2014. After two full offseasons of picking up knowledge and the playbook, he should be able to contribute in the pass-rushing rotation.
He isn't as consistent as the Broncos would like, as he only had sacks in four games during his senior year at Western Kentucky. However, that periodic dominance could come in handy if the Broncos don't get the production they want from DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller in a certain game.
Because his main competition is undrafted free agent Kenny Anunike, Smith should make the team as the fourth defensive end. One of the defensive ends ahead of him, Malik Jackson, also plays defensive tackle, so Smith will be necessary.
Smith isn't going to start, and he's not going to play a lot. However, he could come through with sacks on passing downs when the Broncos need him to.
The Broncos' first wave of free-agent signings was followed weeks later by a less-heralded move. That move was the signing of Will Montgomery.
Montgomery will provide valuable depth to the offensive line, and he could even start if he beats out Manny Ramirez or if the Broncos unexpectedly shift Orlando Franklin at tackle. He isn't well-known, but his numbers are solid.
Pro Football Focus rated Montgomery as an above-average center, and according to the site, he only surrendered two sacks in 2013 (despite the team giving up 43). He was a quietly solid player for Washington, and he should bring the same qualities to Denver.
If he plays in training camp as well as he did last year, he should earn a starting job. He could be an upgrade over last year's left guard, Zane Beadles.
Beadles surrendered twice as many quarterback hurries (34) as Montgomery (17). When it's put that way, Montgomery looks like a solid pass-protector.
He might not be a big name now, but he could be receiving lots of praise during the upcoming season.
Forgotten amid the hype about Colorado State linebacker Shaquil Barrett is the attention fellow undrafted free agent Lerentee McCray received last year.
McCray made a name for himself with the athleticism he displayed in college, and he also did a nice job in the 2013 preseason. He seemed like a shoo-in for the roster, but he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the final preseason game.
Before that, he compiled two sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. He also received a positive grade as a pass-rusher and in coverage. He didn't give up a catch in coverage, which is another positive aspect.
He could be used in a role similar to the one Von Miller currently plays. Miller often rushes alongside the 4-3 defensive end, who plays in a 6-technique spot (on the outside shoulder of the tackle). McCray could also rush from a position like this.
If Miller doesn't return for Week 1, McCray could see lots of action as a pass-rusher. If Miller does come back in time, McCray could spot him or even try rushing from the weak side.
The Florida product would fit well in this role, and it's apparent that Miller sees this. According to Andrew Mason of the official team website, Miller has been counseling McCray. This shows that Miller sees potential in the young linebacker.
McCray will likely compete with Barrett for the last linebacker spot. Barrett also rushes well, and he had more sacks in college. Both received hefty signing bonuses, and both will have to prove their worth.
But if McCray, who received an absurd $17,000 signing bonus last year, does what he did last preseason, he should make his way onto the roster and do damage.
Last year was Julius Thomas' turn. Could this year be another young tight end's time to shine?
Virgil Green caught just nine passes for 45 yards last year. However, he has potential that he is ready to show in 2014.
According to NFL.com, the speedy Green ran a 4.64 40-yard dash and checked in with an insane 42.5-inch vertical leap at the 2011 NFL combine. He was raw when he entered the league, but he is now more polished and still has the same athletic ability.
And apparently, Green is catching the ball. He only has one drop (and 18 catches) in his career, and if the reports from Dove Valley are any indication, he's poised to keep that number low.
In addition, offensive coordinator Adam Gase mentioned him as an option in the running game. According to Mason, he could even start a game as a running back. He ran once for six yards in the AFC Championship Game, and he could be more involved this year.
Green's potential emergence seems similar to Thomas', and we know how that worked out. He appears to be ready to contribute in many facets, and while he might not post the eye-popping numbers Thomas did last year, he is certainly going to assume a larger role.